Committee questions justification for counter-terrorism measures

25 March 2010

In its final report on counter-terrorism of this Parliament the Joint Committee on Human Rights calls for a fundamental, independent review of the necessity for and proportionality of all counter-terrorism measures adopted since September 11 2001

It welcomes the Government's commitment to human rights as a key principle underpinning its counter-terrorism measures, but questions the way that the policy imperatives of national security and public safety have been used to justify squeezing out human rights considerations.

Since September 11 2001, the Government has continuously claimed that there is a "public emergency threatening the life of the nation". The Committee questions whether the country has really been in this state for over eight years. A permanent state of emergency skews public debate about the justification for rights-limiting counter-terrorism measures.

The Committee says it is unacceptable that the Director General of the Security Service refuses to appear before it to give public evidence – despite giving public lectures and media interviews - that would allow the Committee to make judgements about the necessity and proportionality of counter-terrorism measures.

The Committee says:

  • the Government’s narrow definition of complicity in torture is "significant and worrying" and in light of eg. details published in the case of Binyam Mohammed the case for an urgent independent inquiry into the allegations of complicity in torture is now irresistible
  • an urgent and comprehensive review of the use of secret evidence and special advocates – which have increased dramatically - is needed
  • Government should drop the draft bill still being held in reserve to allow pre-charge detention to be extended to 42 days, and instigate a review of those held for more than 14 days without charge in relation to the Heathrow airline plot
  • more work should be done on measures - such as bail and the use of intercept evidence - that could reduce the use of pre-charge detention

The Committee reasserts the need for greater accountability for counter-terror measures including making the Intelligence and Security Committee a proper Parliamentary committee with an independent secretariat and legal advice and appointing an independent reviewer of counter-terror legislation who reports directly to Parliament not the Government.

Chair of the Committee, Andrew Dismore MP, said:

"There is no question that we face a serious threat from terrorism, or that we need legislation to counter that threat. The question is, are the counter-terror measures we have in place justifiable, on an ongoing basis, in light of the most up to date information we have.

"The idea that we have consistently faced an emergency level threat for over eight years since September 11 is, we believe, questionable. What is needed now is not consolidation, but a thoroughgoing, evidence-based review of the necessity for and proportionality of all the counter-terrorism legislation passed since that day. This should be an urgent priority for the next Parliament."

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